Treaty lawyer Donna Hall was lobbying powerful iwi leaders to join the Maori Council's water claim days before it was lodged - but none signed up.
Many iwi leaders have said they have nothing but respect for the council's groundbreaking work but can't support the claim, which asks the Waitangi Tribunal to halt the government's energy asset sales until a determination around Maori customary interests in water is made.
Ms Hall was at Waitangi last weekend as tribal leaders met with each other.
One iwi leader, who didn't want to be named, said Ms Hall "ping ponged" between iwi leaders lobbying.
Ngapuhi runanga chairman Sonny Tau said Ms Hall visited his table to talk about water but he wasn't supportive.
"If Donna's going for ownership then she's pushing the proverbial uphill.
"Certainly she spoke to my CEO about the water and was encouraging my CEO to leave the iwi forum and join the Maori Council so she must have been lobbying."
He said the claim was not new to iwi chairs who had been talking to the Crown for the last two-and-a-half years about water rights.
"At this point in time, we're still working through the issues and we're loath to go to court with the Crown for the fear that [a] ruling is made against a claim for kaitiakitanga [guardianship.]"
"This water issue is huge and we're saying to Donna - hold on."
Tainui's Tuku Morgan said there was speculation that Ms Hall's husband Sir Eddie Durie may become involved in the case. He said he didn't support the claim because Waikato Tainui would speak for itself on the issue.
Tuhoe wasn't at the meeting. However, tribal leader Tamati Kruger said the iwi remembered previous dealings with Ms Hall when she was a prominent player in the massive claim around the Kaingaroa forest. It was not settled under Ms Hall's watch.
However, it cost the Crown more than $30 million in lawyers and negotiations fees over 20 years.
That experience led the tribe to very carefully consider the "characters" involved in claims, he said.
"We have a list of people that we would not like to be party with." Ms Hall was on that list and was one reason why it would not support the water claim, Mr Kruger said.
Ms Hall declined to comment.
On Tuesday court papers named 11 claimants, including Sir Graham Latimer, individual land owners from around the country, and Maanu Paul who represents a marae but also claims to be the council's media spokesman. Deputy chair Richard Orzecki said Mr Paul had been expelled from the organisation last year.
None of the iwi chairs were named on the papers.